We all use navigation apps to help us get where we’re going; as the platform for these programs moved from stand-alone GPS receivers to smartphones, they’ve grown with the addition of real-time traffic data. Avoiding road work is one thing, but what about when that real-time data is information on police checkpoints, and the app is configured to help you avoid them? That sort of ethical issue is just what the companies behind the major app stores are worrying about right now, as several US senators have expressed their concerns over apps that provide drivers tools warning them of DUI stops.
RIM has already taken action, agreeing to pull such apps from its App World. Google and Apple, though, have yet to pull the plug on similar tools offered through their storefronts. Should they?
No one is suggesting that drunk driving is to be encouraged, or that drunk drivers shouldn’t be locked up, but what role should the moderators of app stores have in policing apps that aren’t actually breaking any laws? Some of the DUI checkpoint apps in question take steps to certainly appear above-the-board, putting users in touch with local cab companies when they’ve had a few too many. That makes it all the more difficult for an app store to decide if the program is designed to encourage illegal activity, or help steer users away from it.
One could argue that this whole problem is caused by the concept of app stores themselves. By putting themselves in a position to control app distribution and approval, these companies are opening themselves up to interference from anyone who disagrees with the apps they make available. What if this controversy was, instead, over apps that help women locate nearby abortionists? Getting yourself into the business of what legal apps your users should have access to can quickly become a slippery slope.
Should Google and Apple follow RIM’s lead? If the senators think these apps are so wrong, why not make them illegal themselves, rather than putting this burden on app stores? What do you think?
Source: USA Today